What is it with director Thomas Martin putting women on pedestals? In Margaret Perry’s “Collapsible” we find him at it again. This times it’s Perry’s wide-eyed, perma-smiling Essie, sat cross-legged on a plinth, looking like an elevated Buddha. Seeking self enlightenment about who she is, Essie looks uneasy in the stillness. Softly stretching and straining as Alex Fernandes’ superlative lighting passes over her body, like shifting moods, Essie hints of undercurrents of agitation. And agitations abound when one woman's navel gazing risks driving herself mad, in this simple, profound, and utterly irresistible production.
In Perry’s short, smart, yet sumptuous script, Essie really needs to get over herself. Even though she’s not sure she’s really there, she keeps getting in her own way. The perfect job and the perfect relationship, Essie just lost both, and herself in the process. The internet has some answers, as does everyone else she knows, with Essie seeking their input while looking to compile a list of her qualities for forthcoming job interviews. I mean what else can you do when you don’t know who you are, and your life and your mind are slowly unravelling?
While “Collapsible” features yet another woman on the verge of a soul searching breakdown, looking to find meaning in her life, it is head and shoulders above most of the rest surfing the same waters. Perry’s superbly written script, tossing insights and similes like expensive confetti, proves ravishingly smart and funny. Yet, like Essie, it conceals deeper disconnects beneath the surface. If language shapes our world and our meaning, and by extension ourselves, in a world were meaning comes via news speak and internet speak, HR and hipsters speak, there’s an awful lot being talked about but very little of real substance for Essie to hang on to. If the end smacks of a convenient gimmick for a fraction of a second, superbly foreshadowed by Perry throughout, it immediately reveals itself as crucial to challenging Essie’s sense of isolation, as well as bringing some perspective, and maybe a little hope.
If Martin’s apparent plinth fetish failed miserably in SINK, in “Collapsible” it proves to be a stroke of genius. With Essie never firmly fixed on the ground, caught somewhere between the world and her own head, trying desperately to stay balanced, Alison Neighbours' cunning design turns the metaphorical into the literal, with jagged spikes adding to Essie’s imminent, internal danger. Alex Fernandes’ lighting proves mind blowingly good, so indispensable to the telling that the production would be seriously weakened without it. Yet it is a crowning, towering performance by Breffni Holahan, under Martin's first class direction, that brings everything to life. Showing the graceful articulations of a dancer, and exquisite timing in delivery, Holahan is mesmerisingly brilliant in a performance of such quality it just takes your breath away.
Granted, “Collapsible” can stumble in the dark at times, but it still features some of the best new writing to hit the stage this year. As well as an out of this world performance by Holahan. Across the board, from page to stage, “Collapsible” is an absolute treat.
“Collapsible” by Margaret Perry, presented by Ellie Keel Productions, runs as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2019 at The Peacock Stage of The Abbey Theatre until Sept 21.
For more information visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2019 or The Abbey Theatre.